President Joe Biden speaks with journalists in Connecticut, on October 15, 2021. White House reporters told CPJ they are concerned about their limited access to Biden (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

Biden and the media: CPJ’s press freedom recommendations

CPJ is concerned that U.S. President Joe Biden has not addressed many of the Obama and Trump-era limitations on press freedom. In ‘Night and Day’, a CPJ special report on the Biden administration’s relationship with the press during its first year in office, former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. found that while some progress has been made, key problems outlined in his reports on the previous two administrations remained. These range from freedom of information requests that remain backlogged, stymieing reporters’ ability to cover matters of public interest; limited access to the southern border; and the use of the Espionage Act against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. 

Based on the report by Downie, who also wrote CPJ reports on The Obama Administration and the Press and The Trump Administration and the Media, CPJ makes the following recommendations to the Biden administration:

  • Embrace good practice and transparency in dealing with the press by speaking to reporters on the record and avoiding overuse of on background briefings and quote approval. Make the president more accessible to reporters.
  • Instruct all government departments to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in a timely manner without regard to the media organizations or reporters filing those requests. Enforce prompt and less restrictive responses to FOIA requests to facilitate greater transparency. 
  • Implement restrictions that would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to obtain warrants before searching electronic devices. Require both agencies to release transparency reports about such searches. 
  • Prohibit DHS and CBP agents from intimidating and singling out journalists for questioning and/ or asking journalists about their work . 
  • Codify the new DOJ policy restricting federal prosecutors’ ability to obtain journalists’ phone and email records in government leak investigations. 
  • Prioritize and support passage of legislation – such as Senator Ron Wyden’s PRESS Act – that would protect journalists’ First Amendment rights against government prosecution for using and receiving confidential and classified information. The legislation should expansively define journalists, and shield reporters’ communication records, ensuring that the government cannot compel journalists to disclose sources or unpublished reporting information. 
  • Stop the misuse of the Espionage Act to hinder press freedom: Drop the espionage charges against Julian Assange and cease efforts to extradite him to the U.S. Put into place legislation that would prevent the use of the Espionage Act as a means to halt news gathering activity. 
  • Ensure that U.S. companies or individuals are not contributing to the secret surveillance of journalists abroad, and that foreign companies face targeted sanctions for enabling authoritarian governments to spy on journalists.   
  • Take action against impunity in the murder of journalists: Impose sanctions on Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, holding the leader to account for his role in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.  
  • Process P-2 visa applications for Afghan journalists as rapidly as possible and be communicative about which cases are being processed; allow P-2 processing for individuals who have reached the U.S.; and provide support and protection to journalists still in Afghanistan or who have escaped to third countries.
  • Support the creation of an emergency visa for journalists at-risk around the world (such as in section 6 of the International Press Freedom Act of 2021) to ensure solutions are in place for future crises like the one in Afghanistan.